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Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2006/ 9 Shevat, 5766

Nat Hentoff

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An abortionist's day | I am not easily shocked these days, especially with a certified terrorist organization, Hamas, now governing the Palestinians. But I was jolted to learn New York City, where I live, is — according to the Jan. 15 New York Daily News — "the abortion capital of the country."

For every 100 pregnancies in 2004, 40 ended in a planned abortion — almost double the national average of 24 of 100 pregnancies in 2002. In New York in 2004, the total number of induced abortions was 91,700. (The source was the Department of Health's new Vital Statistics Report.)

Unlike most people I know in journalism, I am a pro-lifer. When accused of this unpardonable heresy after years of being categorized as a nonreligious liberal, I quote a letter in the Feb. 18, 1990, Journal of the American Medical Association by a North Carolina physician, Dr. Joel Hylton:

"Who can deny that the fetus is alive and is a separate entity? Its humanity also cannot be questioned scientifically. It is certainly of no other species. That it is dependent on another makes it qualitatively no different from countless other humans outside the womb. It strikes me that to argue one may take an innocent life to preserve the quality of life of another is cold ..."

As a reporter, I usually am able to understand why people with whom I disagree, think and act the way they do; but I am at a loss to understand how an abortionist finds his daily vocation in deliberately, brutally ending a human life.

But having read a remarkably illuminating Nov. 29, 2005, Los Angeles Times article, "Offering Abortion, Rebirth," by staff writer Stephanie Simon, I at least have some sense of the mindset of an abortionist. Hers is not a report with an anti-abortion agenda.

Stephanie Simon just reported what she saw and heard in a visit to the office of Dr. William F. Harrison in Fayetteville, Ark.

Harrison, 70, "estimates he's terminated at least 20,000 pregnancies." He will not, however, end third-trimester pregnancies, even if the fetus is severely disabled, because he regards abortion at that stage to be infanticide. "Until that point," however, Stephanie Simon reports, "he will abort for any reason."

On the day Stephanie Simon was in his office, a patient, a 32-year-old college student, had had four abortions in the last 12 years. "She keeps forgetting to take her birth-control pills. Abortion 'is a bummer,' she says, 'but no big stress.'"

Harrison has no hesitation in calling himself an abortionist, adding, "I am destroying a life." But he is convinced that he is simultaneously giving life — calling his patients "born again." He explains: "When you end what the woman considers a disastrous pregnancy, she has been literally given her life back."

As for the human lives he so often ends before the third trimester, Harrison's attitude, after performing a two-minute abortion that day, is described: "When he's done, Harrison performs another ultrasound (previously frozen with an image of the fetus). The screen this time is blank, but for the contours of the uterus. 'We've gotten everything out of there,' he says."

No big stress.

In the course of her account of this abortionist's work, the reporter observes: "For the few women who arrive ambivalent or beset by guilt, Harrison's nurse has posted statistics on the exam-room mirror: One out of every four pregnant women in the U.S. chooses abortion. A third of all women in this country will have at least one abortion by the time they're 45."

The nurse says that if the patient remains very troubled, "if they truly feel they're killing a baby, we're not going to do an abortion for them."

Since Harrison figures he's performed some 20,000 abortions, many of his patients apparently did not feel they were killing a human being.

This day in the abortionist's office reminded me that when the late John Cardinal O'Connor — whom I was privileged to know as a friend — first became Bishop of New York City, he was vilified in a New York Times editorial for having called abortion a "holocaust."

I didn't think he was wrong then, nor do I think so now.

When a New York doctor who had performed thousands of abortions looked at what he had done with his life, he stopped, and converted to Catholicism. Cardinal O'Connor presided at the doctor's conversion. The next day, the Cardinal said to me: "I hope we don't lose you. You're the only liberal, nonreligious, civil libertarian pro-lifer we have left."

I'm still here — in the abortion capital of the United States. I would not have voted to confirm Samuel Alito — obviously, not because of his purported view of abortion, but because he strikes me as deferring far too much to presidential and everyday police powers in this indefinite war on terrorism. I opposed Justice Alito because I do not believe in aborting the Bill of Rights.

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Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of several books, including his current work, "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance". Comment by clicking here.

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